The Bobby Petrino saga has drawn attention to an often overlooked aspect of big-time college football: The relationship between coaches and the police who handle security for them.
Around the Southeastern Conference, providing sideline security for SEC programs is considered coveted duty. Some officers travel to away games, a cost paid for mostly by the schools. It can range from volunteer duty to part of the officer’s regular schedule.
Arkansas State Police Captain Lance King, who provided security for Petrino at Razorback games, got the call from the coach when he wrecked his motorcycle.
King was cleared of any wrongdoing and it’s not unusual for marquee college coaches to have at least a causal relationship with the law enforcement officials who work closely with the program.
"We consider it an honor because college football is such a public part of life in the south," said Mississippi Highway Patrol Maj. Billy Mayes, a 31-year veteran of the MHP who graduated from Ole Miss in 1981. "But from my point of view, the relationship is strictly business. Some coaches are more personable than others. Ed Orgeron didn’t talk to us much. Houston Nutt did."
In the Petrino case, the coach felt comfortable enough to with King to have the officer handle the crucial minutes following the crash.
Since the incident, Petrino has been fired with cause in the wake of explosive details of the crash and attempted cover-up, including lying about details of the accident, infidelity and workplace favoritism. Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long found that the coach made "a conscious decision" to mislead the university in the aftermath of the crash, including that 25-year-old Jessica Dorrell was on the motorcycle with him during the accident.
Long’s role in that aftermath was examined by the Arkansas State Police, but the department concluded he did not violate "any State Police policy or state laws."
At LSU, the state police escort began back in the late 1970s when Jerry Stovall was coach, according to State Police Capt. Doug Cain. The trooper for current LSU coach Les Miles is Sgt. Bryan Madden, who has handled the assignment since 2008. He was an LSU player in the early 1990s, and has been with the State Police for more than a decade.
"One thing a lot of people don’t realize is it’s a volunteer assignment," Cain said. "Those troopers are not paid (by the department), and up until a couple years ago they had to take vacation time when they went out of town with the team."
LSU compensates Madden for any hotel rooms and travel expenses, which was a common arrangement according to responses from police in Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina. All of the departments said the service did not cost taxpayers in extra money in the form of overtime or special benefits.
LSU Vice Chancellor for Communications Herb Vincent said Madden is paid $40 an hour by the school for home games.
The Alabama Department of Public Safety declined to provide information or comment citing security concerns.
Many of the officers have been doing the job for years. Gordy Wright, Director of Public Information for the Georgia State Patrol, said Lt. Steve Rushton has handled the assignment of providing security for coach Mark Richt for all 11 seasons.
Mayes has handled security for Mississippi’s football team for the past six seasons. He considers the assignment a privilege — and occasionally gets face time on national television during the coaches’ postgame handshake — but that doesn’t mean he has a particularly close relationship with the Ole Miss coaching staff.
"It’s interesting to be around the program," Mayes said. "But we’re there to do our job and make (the team’s) job as easy as possible."
It’s not always a glamorous assignment.
South Carolina Department of Public Safety spokesman Sherri Iacobelli said that the assignment of travelling with the Gamecocks often goes to a veteran officer who is particularly adept at handling traffic situations and logistics.
"This is a demanding assignment," Iacobelli said in an email response. Troopers who take on this role consider this a privilege and take pride in representing the Highway Patrol and our state in a professional and courteous way."